Georgette Forney remembers when she first turned up at March for Life in 2002 with a homemade sign. On red cardboard, she had written, "I regret choosing my abortion."
"I spent weeks thinking about what it should say," Forney, who had an abortion at 16, recalls. "I was shocked how many other people at the march came up next to me and said, 'Me, too.' "
This year, Forney returned. She did not have her original sign -- but she did have 65 other women, who had all come to the 39th March for Life to speak publicly about their abortions.
Forney co-founded Silent No More in 2003, to represent abortion opponents who have undergone the procedure themselves. A decade after its founding, the anti-abortion group huddled Friday evening to debrief on the day -- and, 40 years after the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion across the country, where their movement stands.
About two dozen people have gathered in the 15th-floor hotel suite, taking a break from the cold and snacking on small candy bars. They wear blue, butterfly-adorned buttons that say, "I regret my abortion." Fox News's coverage of the March for Life, a few blocks away, plays in the background. The group, largely female, with a few men, looks to spot friends they knew on television.
"We had some really crazy things happen today," Forney starts. She's mostly referring to a forced evacuation around the Supreme Court -- where her group delivers their testimonies every year -- after an unidentified package turned up. The evacuation interrupted in mid-speech a woman who had traveled from Washington state to share her story.
In the room, some women express frustration with the state of abortion rights: For 40 years now, abortion has been a legal right in the United States. "I don't want my children to have 40 more years of this," says Julia Holcomb, a mother of seven, who has worked with the group for years.
What Holcomb sees, when she thinks about the Roe decision, is "the greatest battle of this generation."
"We need to redouble our efforts and work harder," she tells the group.
Jody Duffy from Atlanta had an abortion as a 21-year-old when serving as a second lieutenant in the Army. She worries about the implication of new regulations, part of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, that will expand military insurance to cover abortions in the case of rape or incest. Currently, only abortions to save the life of the mother are covered.
"There are some people who feel we should allow our military service women and family members to have access to abortion in military facilities," she tells the group. "I say: 'You're doing a disservice to them, not a service.' "
At the same time, the group expresses optimism about the future. For one thing, it's seen a significant expansion. Since its founding a decade ago, the group has grown to a roster of 65 speakers for this year's March (only 45 were able to talk before the suspicious-package scare).
The group has become so accustomed to attending March for Life that it has a standard procedure in place for drawing attention to the speakers. Some members will head to the steps of the Supreme Court, where they hold their annual event, while another "flank," as Forney describes it, holds up the group's signs and offers directions to other March for Life participants who might be interested in attending.
"What we typically do is we have the majority of the women head straight to Supreme Court," she explains. "We always have a flank who stays, that can greet people and give them an opportunity to connect with us for opportunities for healing. We find there are a lot of women who have had abortions here."
Angelina Steenstra came shortly after the 40th anniversary of her own abortion; she had the procedure in April 1972, in New York, just months before the Supreme Court issued its Roe ruling. She thinks that, as younger people hear about abortion experiences like hers, it might change their attitudes.
"Sometimes mothers are not prepared to talk about their abortions in the way that grandmothers are," she says. "I see that with my nieces and nephews. I'm able to speak to them. The oldest is 26, and the youngest is 7. These doors open to talk to them."
Just after dinner arrives in the suite, and the group says a prayer over the meal, Forney excuses herself early. She heads to the airport to catch a flight to San Francisco, where she will arrive at 1 a.m. On Saturday, she will lead a similar set of testimonies at the Walk for Life West Coast.
When I ask Forney how she sees her movement faring, she says that, overall, she's optimistic.
"When you see women getting educated, and someone like Kourtney Kardashian in the magazines saying 'I'm not going to have an abortion,' " she responds, "That's when I feel like we're making progress. Things are changing."